Tosca Killoran

Digital Learning Coach, NIST International School


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How do you help engender a culture of thinking within your learning community?

As educators, it is easy to get caught up in the content we need to cover or the myriad of tasks we need to fulfill; but, isn't it just as important for our students to learn the thinking skills involved in order to strive for understanding, to figure out the complexities of ethics, or to seek truth? How do we encourage and motivate thinking with our learning communities? How do we document, challenge and celebrate student thinking? How do we engender thinking as a habit of mind within our students and our classrooms?

  • May 6 2012: Hello Tosca,
    Great topic! Too many of us don't think! I suggest finding a way to create curiosity! It is one the best gifts for mankind!

    When a person is sufficiently curious, they will ask questions, get involved with experiments, and when they learn something new, most will be delighted and if they did the work, they build confidence. Persons do more, live more, ask more questions, share more knowledge and like life more when they are confident. Curious people don't rely on past rules, necessarily, but find ways to think "outside the box". You know your favorite thinkers who were different!

    Curiosity is the Spirit of Knowledge. Humans have benefited from the beginning!

    What do you think?

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      May 6 2012: LOL Hi Mark, I think a lot!! I agree that curiosity is an attitude we would like to develop in students, but I suppose I am interested in the particular logistics of how we engender thinking in our classrooms. What routines or strategies do you have for promoting and celebrating thinking? How do we change that thinking from something that is hidden to something that is explicit? How do we collaborate with others while thinking? Thanks for your post!
      • May 7 2012: 'Here, let me show you', I think is a good technique. You have their attention if you can demonstrate a better way or other possibilities. Use your imagination, which, I sense, you have plenty to share!

        Imagine 16 toothpicks arranged in a way to make five square boxes of equal size and shape. Relocate just two and you have four boxes of equal size. Now if you show this puzzle to your students and ask them to solve the challenge, would they give up or could you challenge them to think of possibilities and show the answer to them. By thinking together and showing them how they can benefit by working together as a team, you might raise their curiosity. If you can teach without tricking them, you will do a great service. You already know this, for sure!!

        You have teacher peers on TED and I hope they rise to your challenge and show you how they create curiosity. And, admiration is a possibility for them if they see what is good.

        Too ideal? Maybe, but real leaders need to know what is best and what could be accomplished. Real leaders don't quit when challenged. "Come, let me show you the better way", is a relationship tool between persons to gain their admiration and cooperation.

        Other tools to fight mediocrity and disinterest are needed for sure.

        Waiting for others to weigh in deeper on this very good topic.

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          May 7 2012: Hi Mark,

          Sorry for the tardy response- I was busy in my classroom all day!

          I really wonder how much more children learn when we step back and allow them to explore possibilities without direction? I understand your premise of 'let me show you', but as an early learning teacher I value, 'I am listening and watching, show me your fabulous ideas, imaginations and understandings' more than me simply leading the discourse. I WANT my students to lead the inquiry. I want them to be thinkers and take action based on that thinking.

          In your example the hook is curiosity- but what of life long dispositions of thinking? How do engender those qualities within learners? Last year, I began to use Visible Thinking Routines and they have transformed my students attitudes about sharing their thinking.

          One routine I particularly like is, simply asking, "What makes you say that?" Which invites students to justify their ideas, beliefs and understandings. From such a simple question, I am modelling that I want to learn more about their ideas and value their thinking. Of course, I document all their ideas and display it, so we can return to those statements and challenge them as we delve deeper into the inquiry.
          Again, thanks for your posts!
  • May 12 2012: You have posed perhaps the most quintessential question for a teacher Tosca. It is the difference between a deliverist teacher and a gifted developer of thinking skills in students. I believe we need to stimulate the ability to think when ever we can and then produce activity and exercises that give opportunity for thinking skills to be practised. At first this may need to be steered in the form of introducing concepts, actions and possibilities. I am always amazed at how quickly students take up the reigns of their own thinking capacity when they are introduced and supported and VALUED within that process.

    I love that you express passion about this area of developing a students capacity to be effective within their own learning process, never lose it. Your own personal passion for the subject drives the mechanisms of thought provoking experience for your learners, build in learning for them that involves immersion of learning in the real world, both in and out side of their classroom. Everything, from the journey to a venue or the experience of class preparation for an expert visit or the experience its self can be an oportunity for thinking skills to be developed.

    I wish to strengthen and enable you in what will be an enormously rewarding journey! Go for it Tosca!
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      May 12 2012: Thanks Marie!
      It is interesting how we have the ability within the relative confines of curricula to expand or 'push' for what we find drives us in our practice.

      I wonder if we built thinking routines into our planning and inquiry cycle if we could better assess for deeper and more divergent thinking in our students? I would like the thinking routines that I use, not to become mere activities but tools my students use when faced with a challenge. However, like most tools, we need to learn how to use them properly. If we plan for the direct teaching of the skill, assess for understanding and then provide opportunities for the students to, as you said so well, "take up the reigns" of their own thinking, I think we have provided the perfect gradual release of responsibility for the thinking challenges students face in their educative journeys.

      How do you think we could better value thinking in our classrooms/schools and learning communities? I know teachers value it by the immediate feedback we give our students, but I wonder what the institution could do better to value thinking in its teaching and learning? I recently visited the International School of Amsterdam, and was impressed that students' thinking was displayed on the walls, teachers' brainstorm sessions were up in the staff room, and ways in which children had used their thinking to meet challenges were included in their portfolios... it was clear they had a culture of thinking that was part of the ethos of the school. I wonder how teachers can take from that model and advocate at their own schools to value thinking in more explicit ways?
      Thanks for your post- it is report writing time so I have stolen a few moments to write you back!
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    May 6 2012: This is so much the focus of what we do in classrooms that a lengthy treatise could be written on it, and many have been. One useful practice is to pose questions regularly that are not about recall of content that has already been processed but rather require some stretching beyond what students already know and some speculation based on things students do know. Another is to facilitate discourse about such topics once students have had a chance to come up with ideas of their own. The culture of discourse should embrace useful additions to the discussion and affirm the validity of different approaches. Students should be encouraged in that context to share ideas that may not be fully formed but not to race to conclusions. Students need to understand that mistakes and walking wrong paths that then need to be scrapped for a new approach is how thinking and problem-solving in the real world works. Many novice and experienced teachers are not attentive to allowing adequate wait time for students to generate responses. Allowing adequate wait time includes not letting the faster processors blurt out their thoughts before others have had a chance to think.
    I could write about this all day, so I will hold here..
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      May 7 2012: Hi there Fritzie, Sorry for the delay in response but I just finished my work day with 19 very eager 5 year olds! Your comment about wait time really resonated with me. As a teacher of small children, and many who speak English as a second or third language, providing wait time is invaluable for them to make connections and synthesize their thinking. I am interested in the idea of providing children materials to engage/play/explore with and then delving into generating student questions. This would provide a framework for students to, "come up with ideas of their own." What I am working with in my classroom right now is the idea of making thinking visible and using routines to help students develop the disposition for thinking. This, I found, has helped them anticipate that deep thinking is an expectation of the class and that communicating that thinking benefits the entire learning community. Thanks for your post!! Thought provoking!
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        May 7 2012: How about something like this, if they can read? You put up a bulletin board or butcher paper with columns. First column is child's name (written in by the child). Second column is What I'd like to find out. Third column is What I think I know about this already.
        The reason to go for this on display in the classroom rather than in a journal is to make the problem finding and process visible.
        You can repeat this process whenever a child has learned enough that he feels like he has learned what he was looking to learn in the moment about the problem he posed.
        Part of your classroom working is asking of each child, "what are some of the ways you might learn about this?" This raises the idea that you can do experiments, you can interview, you can survey, you can read or listen for information ... but you then assemble all these inputs into an answer that makes sense to you.
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          May 7 2012: Yes, I agree that would be great for new teachers. KWL charts are one of the organizers that help children come back to ideas to reflect and challenge their thinking.
          Perhaps, I need to unpack my idea a bit more for people. I posed these questions in this conversation for people to share the systems that they put in place for students to celebrate and challenge thinking.

          I personally use many of the Thinking Routines from Harvard Visible Thinking these help me develop a culture of thinking within my classroom.

          I am an experienced educator who is looking for how we as a larger global learning community understand that teaching for thinking is just as important (or even more important) than teaching for content. What do we do to change our students attitudes from receptors of information to thinking super machines?? Each of us has great things we do each day to engender a culture of thinking, and here I want us to share those ideas for others who may struggle with this big concept.

          Your posts really help add to the toolbox educators can use for developing small, easy to use routines to develop thinking as a disposition.
          Thanks for your posts! They are moving our thinking forward!
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        May 7 2012: I am glad you put up the link for people. An educator who is not familiar with this material will benefit from seeing some best practices described in one comprehensive place.
  • May 7 2012: Tosca,
    You seem like a good teacher; adults and children learn from your methods!!!

    My spouse has a decade of experience teaching elementary; we've talked a lot. She also was highly interested in motivating her pupils. She stated some were problematic behavior challenges and some were slow. I assume your techniques work well for the average and above average child. What can you do for the recalcitrant ones and those of slower abilities? I guess any good teacher would give the best they have and hope children benefit.

    The fact that you think a lot is a sign of good inner motivation. Perhaps it is the teacher's motives that greater determine if a child thinks deeper and is motivated to learn. It does seem right to carefully guide their thinking; it seems you do.

    Is it good or possible to teach a child how to MEASURE their progress? Not measure up, but to compare their past understanding with their current education level and to dream for more.

    You do well without me going on! Best regards for developing a stellar career!

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      May 12 2012: Hi Mark,
      I love your posts!! Always challenging me to reflect on my practice.

      I do think that each child learns at where they are at, and no matter where that 'at' is, it is my job to differentiate for their specific needs. The thinking routines are not for exceptional children, nor for perfectly behaved children, they are for all children. The challenge of teaching as a profession is to find the right 'fit' for that particular learner for that particular task. It can be exhausting- but is why I love my job! I never just hope children benefit, I struggle to find ways that they will learn and excel. No excuses- ever. If they are not learning it is something about my teaching or the ways in which I need help supporting that learner.

      Engendering a culture of thinkers in the classroom requires reflection. This is really, especially in my grade level of 5 year olds, the way for students to measure their progress. It is not about a rubric or percentages but about building self efficacy and a love of learning. By assessing; What have I done? How did I do it? and How could I do it differently next time? enables students to take ownership of the process of learning.

      I would love to hear your wife's stories of being a teacher. I am always fascinated by how far we have come as a profession, and what we can learn from the experts around us!!
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    May 6 2012: It all boils down to application. You will not find something that is correctly applied that is not understood and the corollary is that you will not find something that is not understood that is applied, NO EXCEPTIONS.

    Complexities exist when there is no understanding. Document application that is the first and last test. Students love what they are learning when it is applied they hate it when it is not. Hell the German culture is based on application, just do what comes natural.
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      May 6 2012: Hi Pat,
      I am actually a Canadian international teacher living in Germany. I agree that students love learning in authentic situations. In my own practice, I attempt to work in transfer goals for students to show their understanding in other contexts and I agree it is the ultimate assessment of understanding. However, for the purpose of this discussion, what are your ideas for generating thinking as a disposition in students? Thanks for your reply! Challenging!